Wildlife Groups Say Spill Underscores Need For Riparian Setbacks, Better Water Monitoring

Natural gas spill increases concerns for better safeguards

03-19-2013 // Judith Kohler
Colorado River at Diamond Creek

The discovery of a spill near a natural gas plant and a creek that flows into the Colorado River "should be a wake-up call" for state regulators to finish what was started five years ago – establishing safe setbacks from waterways.

The Colorado Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation noted that riparian buffers for oil and gas wells and infrastructure were one of the issues left on the table when the state overhauled its oil and gas rules in 2008.

"We’re all waiting for more details of the spill near Parachute and results from the investigation, but whatever the precise facts, this should be a wake-up call for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission," NWF attorney Michael Saul said Tuesday.

State and federal agencies are investigating and helping in the cleanup of a leak of thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons in a pipeline right of way adjacent to a gas-processing plant owned by Williams north of Parachute in western Colorado. The underground leak is about 60 feet from the edge of Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River.

"This is one more strong argument for keeping oil and gas wells and related infrastructure a safe distance from waterways," said Suzanne O'Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. "Regulators pledged to form a stakeholders’ group to develop standards for riparian setbacks a while ago. We're still waiting."

Saul and O'Neill said better monitoring of surface and groundwater quality is crucial to protect Colorado drinking waters and fish and wildlife habitat.

"This might have been detected sooner with better monitoring. We don’t know how long this has being going on,"Saul added.

Last year, a spill from an oil well site reached creeks that eventually flow into the North Platte River in Colorado’s North Park area. News of the spill prompted hunting and angling groups to renew a push for buffers around waterways.

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